A man was sitting in his truck at a stop light when he was struck in the rear by a commercial rental truck causing substantial injury to his vehicle and to him. He and his wife filed a lawsuit against the driver of the rental truck, the business that hired him, and the rental company that leased him the vehicle.
The Long Island rental company appealed the Supreme Court’s first decision because they should not have included it in the issue at all. They advised that they hold no liability in the course of this accident because all they did was lease the truck and that the truck had been maintained in good working order. They advised that there was nothing wrong with the truck or the truck’s brakes which would cause it to strike the vehicle in front of it without driver error.
The driver of the rental truck had made a deposition earlier in which he had agreed that there was nothing wrong with the rental truck or its brakes and that the accident was driver error. The Westchester driver was using the rental truck in the course of his business and was working for that business at the time of the accident. The business concurred that he was working for them and that it was their business.
The rental truck company moved for summary judgment based on the Graves Amendment (see 49 USC §30106), “it could not be held vicariously liable for the accident. . . .(because) pursuant to the Graves Amendment, generally, the owner of a leased or rented motor vehicle cannot be held liable for personal injuries resulting from the use of such vehicle if: (1) the owner is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles, and (2) there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner.” In this case, there was clearly no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the rental car company in that the vehicle had been maintained in good working order. The accident was admittedly driver error.
The Supreme Court ruled that the summary judgment on the issue of liability as it related to the rental car company needed to be dismissed. That based on the evidence and the law, they could not be held liable in this case.
As far as the liability goes, the law is clear that a rear-end collision establishes a prima facie case of negligence on behalf of the driver of that vehicle.
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